On the plains of South Dakota, a summer Global Volunteers service team worked one-on-one with the Sicangu Rosebud Sioux people, helping to improve the community’s welfare while gaining unique, non-tourist insights on the history, culture, and struggles of the Lakota Nation. Follow their day-by-day journey of discovery here.
Welcome to the Reservation!
Welcome to the little town of Mission on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota! We began our first day in the communal dining/meeting area of our quarters. We prepared and ate our breakfast as we got acquainted with our teammates. Our team leader, Kathy, invited everyone to “check in” with their name and a little about themselves. Conclusion—another amazing Global Volunteer team.
Our host is Mother Lauren Stanley, an Episcopal priest who serves the Lakota population. Since it was Sunday, there was a church service and pot-luck lunch with the congregation if we wished to attend. We all opted in, and were well-rewarded. It was our first meeting and experience with Mother Lauren.
Words cannot begin to describe this amazing woman. Her beautiful sermon was part of a month-long Easter celebration and focused on love. Lots of music and singing. Mother Lauren incorporates the Lakota language in parts of her service. After the service we all greeted each other with a handshake and “peace be with you.” Mother Lauren explained to us that the Lakota do not use eye contact or a firm handshake, believing it to be hostile. Unfortunately we did not have that information until after the service, so we looked everyone in the eye and gave each our best, firm and friendly handshake. Sigh. First lesson in Lakota culture. Lunch with the congregation was special—the team joined various tables and enjoyed great conversations.
Later on, we met with Mother Lauren at her home. She filled us in on a bit of her background (missions in Sudan, Haiti, etc.) and her work here on the Rosebud Reservation. She told us the Rosebud Reservation is quite large (882,416 sq. miles) with about 30,000 enrolled Lakota. Mission has about 1,100 enrolled. On another day, she told us a very colorful story of The Creation, which is the core of the Lakota peoples’ beliefs. We were all mesmerized by her exuberant storytelling skills.
Mother Lauren described the GLORY Program (God Loves Our Rosebud Youth), and also the work being done with domestic violence issues and a women’s shelter. She also told us about the Lakota guests that would be helping us understand the culture with discussions and demonstrations of beading and dancing. As part of our cultural education, we will be going to Wounded Knee and she suggested we educate ourselves before we go.
Most of us lacked knowledge about this massacre that took place nearby. Judy read to us about the incident arising as a result of the appearance of the Ghost Dancer. This frightened the white man, and caused savage attacks on the Sioux men, women and children at Wounded Knee in 1890. The massacre of indigenous people that followed is legendary and a sad commentary on this country’s history.
Working at the Women’s Shelter
Our primary service project was working inside and painting at the women’s shelter, Ta Tiwaheki. Our project included cleaning and organizing a room where crafts, sewing machines, sewing material, and anti-violence educational material are stored, sorting and organizing donated clothing, and painting walls inside the shelter office – which included moving a lot of office furniture. It was a very fulfilling, educational and fun day.
The shelter director, Lindsey, told us the facility which was established in 1977 by Native Americans for Native American women and was the first of its kind in the United States. Lindsey said that the needs today are the same as when the shelter started. It is called “wrap around” care and includes all aspects of a woman’s personal needs from abuse to alcohol addiction. They have recently added a program called MVD: Male Violence Prevention and will change their name from “Her” House to “Our” House to more accurately define what they do. This program is not a tribal program, but is an independent non-profit organization. They get their funding from grants from the state and federal government and from private donations. They currently have nine grants.
“It was a very fulfilling, educational and fun day. “Carolyn, South Dakota Global Volunteer
We also helped at the White Buffalo Calf Our House thrift shop, part of the shelter, organizing and sorting clothes, clothes, and more clothes. The shoppers who stopped in were able to have things organized by type and size which make it much easier for them to find what they needed. We were treated to a lovely family of father, mother and three small active children who came in the store and left with bags of clothing and shoes.
The shoe pairing was initiated by one of the shop customers – finding one shoe that she loved, and hunting through the tubs of shoes for the mate. Couldn’t find it. Sorting and mating the shoes became a task of purpose resulting in one remaining tub of single shoes without a mate and an organized group of neatly sorted and connected pairs.
While we were sorting and organizing, Denny and Matt finished the painting. They were well-received at the shelter by the staff and were “smudged” with sage to add positive vibes.
Learning about Lakota Culture
At the Wounded Knee massacre site, to the east we could see a large hill where the large guns used in the attack were placed. We followed a road to the Cemetery, a large mass grave. We walked up to the gate of this hallowed ground, where we met some descendants of the Lakota that were massacred there. It was very emotional.
On our way back we stopped at Mother Lauren’s to discuss Wounded Knee and our impressions. A fact that I did not know is the Lakota has the 7th Calvary’s battle flag from the battle at the Little Big Horn, which is why there isn’t a 7th Calvary in the army to this day.
Hattie Dunham, a local Lakota woman, visited us one evening and shared her beautiful bead work. One unusual and amazing piece of her art is covering the top of graduation caps. It takes her 70 to 100 hours of beading. They are incredible. In addition to sharing her work she discussed and spoke of many elements of life on the reservation as well as some of her personal history and observations. She told us about the Lakota seven directions of prayer, West, North, East, South, Universe (up), Mother Earth, and ourselves. She spoke about some little known history of how Native Americans fought the Vikings and the many massacres of Native Americans including Wounded Knee in 1890. She felt that racism still exists in South Dakota and native people can be identified by their auto license plates which identify where they are from. She also spoke sadly about the violence and sexual assault that remains a problem today along with the difficulty in getting unbiased justice in small towns where everyone is related to or knows each other. She explained that food is a very important issue because we “all have starved” at some point. People still offer whatever they have, maybe just water. We ended the night with a lot to think about.
“Hattie Dunham explained that food is a very important issue because we “all have starved” at some point. People still offer whatever they have, maybe just water. We ended the night with a lot to think about.”Pam, South Dakota Global Volunteer
A Visit to the Middle School
We delivered the requested student backpacks to the principal of the Todd County Middle School. Dana, the principal, explained that Mother Lauren established a charity where unused food that was previous thrown out (by law), is now saved, frozen into meals and distributed in backpacks for children to take home. Dana said she could use 200 backpacks.
She showed us the “recovery room” where kids come to calm down and then talk about what is bothering them. They can self-refer or be referred by a teacher. Four years prior, 400 students had 800 suspensions – now because of this room, it is down to 120. Violence has decreased from 90 incidents to 5.
Turn Earth, Chop Wood
A long and busy day. The Rosebud Economic Development garden is divided into a “Three Sisters” garden, an experimental garden which contains a large dome, and a raised bed area. The dome is passive solar with fans that put the hot air under the sail into pipes that warm the soil and returns cool air to the dome. Local school children have helped with the project. Herbs will be planted around the outside of the dome to help nourish the two new bee colonies. The plan is for the garden to supply a farmer’s market and to try to get the produce into local groceries and hopefully a restaurant. The philosophy is to reinforce food as a part of the Lakota tradition of community.
Most of our work was turning over the earth in the tunnel greenhouse – discovering seldom-used muscles. Matt again demonstrated his youthful strength by using the “broad fork” to turn a swath of dirt several feet wide with each pass. Later during the day, Danny came over and showed us the process by which they chop wood (using a very impressive machine with the strength of 25 tons!). People from all over the reservation donate trees so that Mother Lauren can help provide locals with firewood, an essential resource in the cold.
A Tearful Good-Bye and Thank You
We hosted dinner for the friends we made during the week. It was a wonderful chance for more conversation and to thank the people who so graciously allowed us into their culture. We certainly felt that we got more than we gave. After dinner, Sage Eagle showed us his dance regalia and explained how it was worn. We could really appreciate his wife’s skill as beader. He then got us outside and taught us a circle dance. We were far from good at it, but it was fun.
“We certainly felt that we got more than we gave.”Linda, South Dakota Global Volunteer
Enter a world of service and learning with the Sicangu Rosebud Sioux people. Help with pressing social, labor and cultural projects for a week of service, learning and fun. Interested? Learn more on how to become a volunteer at Rosebud Reservation here.